BY GABE LICHT
BUFFALO, MN On a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Charlie Borrell and Mark Daleiden opposed, the Wright County Board decided to move forward with funding for a new government center Tuesday after rejecting a petition aimed at forcing a vote on the project.
The county will be utilizing certificate of participation financing to fund both the government center and a tactical training center. While the government center decision was not unanimous, the tactical training vote was.
Before the board could move forward with funding, it first needed to rescind the capital improvement plan it had adopted April 30, and declare that there will not be a referendum regarding funding for either project, despite a petition with about 4,600 signatures calling for one. It did so unanimously.
Representatives from Rupp, Anderson, Squires, and Waldspurger, PA, reviewed the petition on behalf of the county and determined it did not meet the requirements set out by Minnesota statute. Specifically, the counsel stated the 739-page document had improper form and a lack of a summary.
“Had the legal requirements been met, I would not be prepared to move forward with other things at this time,” Commissioner Christine Husom said. “The majority of people who contacted me are in favor of moving forward with the new government center.
“It just seems like the most fiscally responsible thing to do, instead of doing more shifting and shifting, having a centralized campus not only for citizens but all our staff who work together on all these different things,” she continued later.
Commissioner Charlie Borrell disagreed.
“It seems like we’re circumventing the will of the petitioners,” Borrell said. “ . . . I think it might be better for continuity of everybody to just put this off for a year.”
Daleiden also voiced support for putting off the project for a couple years.
“It’s a very difficult decision and there have been many sleepless nights trying to figure it out,” Daleiden said.
Chair Darek Vetsch said he had “spent an enormous amount of time over the last year-plus putting out educational materials and going out to numerous venues.”
While Husom said building the government center is the most fiscally responsible thing to do, Vetsch said, “I know this is the most fiscally prudent. I’ve put together numerous financial models. I can’t find a scenario that lends to us staying in this building as a fiscally responsible route.”
Regarding the tactical training center, which will be built in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Daleiden said, “I am concerned about not doing this and never getting opportunities with federal people again.”
Husom and fellow Commissioner Mike Potter both spoke regarding the other aspects of the center: a backup dispatch center, a backup data center, and an emergency management center.
It was noted that, had the county been able to proceed with bonding for the projects, it would have saved about $700,000 over the life of the bonds, but Vetsch believes that number will be closer to $200,000 after refinancing the certificates in 10 years.
Husom also noted the county will be able to prepay on the certificate, unlike with bonds.
Wright County Health and Human Services Public Health Director Sarah Grosshuesch shared a presentation about a Tobacco 21, or T21, ordinance to raise the age for purchasing tobacco in the county to 21.
She said that 95 percent of current adult smokers started before the age of 21.
There has also been a significant increase in youth tobacco use after years of declines due to the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes, she said.
The number of civil tobacco tickets has risen from 90 in 2016-17, to 110 in 2017-18, and to 246 this past school year, she said.
Much of her presentation focused on health concerns connected to tobacco use.
“One of the reasons we’re concerned about e-cigs is a number of untested harmful ingredients in them,” Grosshuesch said. “In addition to nicotine, there are flavors, which are not natural flavors. They are volatile organic compounds and other additives a part of the vaping liquid. In addition to nicotine addiction, it can cause oral and tooth decay. It can affect respiratory systems . . . When people’s brains are primed for nicotine, that also primes them for opioid addiction.”
Tobacco use is currently contributing to the death of 6,000 Minnesotans annually and adding $3 billion in excess healthcare costs in the state, she contended.
She admitted that raising the tobacco-buying age would not stop youth from using e-cigarettes, but that it would reduce it.
“Communities implementing T21 show a 12 percent reduction in smoking, and it reduces initiation by 25 percent,” Grosshuesch said. “We are able to keep tobacco products out of the hands of younger students.”
She noted that 34 municipalities and counties in Minnesota have passed T21, as have cities and counties in other states, and that Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has introduced a T21 bill.
Grosshuesch said 70 percent of smokers are supportive of T21, as are 75 percent of all adults, and 65 percent of adults aged 18 to 24.
Daleiden, who said that smoking is the only bad habit he has left, is included in that 70 percent.
He suggested having a committee of the whole meeting and inviting representatives from the police departments in Annandale, Buffalo, and Howard Lake to join them. A Wright County ordinance would not apply to those cities since they have their own police departments.
Borrell asked why the suggestion is to change the tobacco-buying age to 21.
“We know now what we didn’t know years ago about adolescent brain development, the ability for the brain to get addicted to substances and for substances to permanently alter brain chemistry” Grosshuesch said. “It really starts to wane once people enter their mid-20s. We have current people who are addicted to cigarettes and other tobacco products and we don’t want everyone to go through cold turkey at once without a system to support them.”
A handful of school administrators joined Grosshuesch in promoting T21.
The board will work with the police departments in the county to schedule a committee of the whole meeting regarding the topic.
Ditch in Woodland Township
Wenck, of Maple Plain, will complete a survey and provide a new profile that includes improvements for County Ditch 22 at a cost not to exceed $11,929, following board action.
Agricultural and Drainage Coordinator Matt Detjen said he believes the final cost will be closer to $8,500.
The ditch is located in Woodland Township, terminating south of the Woodland Township Hall. It was constructed in 1914, deepened and widened in 1945, improved multiple times since 1984, and underwent a redetermination of benefits in 2018.
“The main issue is ensuring we have an 8-foot bottom width,” Detjen said.
He estimates that $160,000 in improvements will be needed on the ditch, which is valued at $1.5 million, according to the redetermination of benefits.
Kryzer approached the board, saying that staff have been receiving calls from a number of lake residents concerning the creation of no-wake zones.
Borrell also said a Moose Lake resident had called him with the same concern.
The process of changing the ordinance is lengthy, meaning it likely would not be completed until October or November, Kryzer said.
Captain Todd Hoffman said such an ordinance “is problematic, to say the least, to enforce, especially in regards to setting the ordinary high-water level, who is reading and monitoring it . . . There are statutes on the book we can utilize as law enforcement if there is someone being irresponsible and causing erosion. I just want to make sure everyone has an expectation of what the sheriff’s office can or can’t do.”
The board opted to not take action at this time.
On a 3-2 vote, with Vetsch and Potter opposed, the board approved tabling a decision on whether or not to require an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for a temporary asphalt plant in a gravel pit in Silver Creek Township in order to give time for commissioners to review the site.
Commissioners had first reviewed the matter during the June 4 meeting, but tabled it to give them more time to learn more information about it. Proponents and opponents were also given about 10 minutes each to state their case for and against it.
Valley Paving Vice President Brent Carron said an EAW would not be necessary because the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency requires daily, monthly, and yearly monitoring of the plant and that the company’s permit limits the amount of emissions the plant can produce.
He said the county has other asphalt plants that did not require an EAW, and Minnesota Asphalt Pavement Association Executive Director Abbey Bryduck added that requiring one now would set a precedent for future plants in the county.
Carron also estimated an EAW would cost $50,000 to $100,000 and delay the project six to 12 months.
Jeanne Egge spoke on behalf of residents who live on Locke Lake.
She noted that 227 citizens signed the petition requesting the EAW.
“When we researched the health impacts, we found the EPA states that asphalt fumes are toxic,” Egge said.
She also called noise pollution, saying it would have negative effects on nearby residents.
She contended that asphalt could seep into the ground and impact wells, the lake, and the Mississippi River. Carron said that asphalt cannot seep into the ground.
Egge expressed concerns about asphalt plant fires. Carron said the existing Valley Paving plant has been in existence since 1985 without a fire.
Assistant County Attorney told the board it should “order the preparation of an EAW if the evidence presented by the petitioners demonstrates that, because of the location or nature of the project, that it have potential significant environmental effects.” If no such evidence is found, the board is to deny the request, he said.
The board remained divided on the EAW request, leading to the tabling of the matter.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• awarded a contract in the amount of $4,396,864 to Knife River Corporation, of Sauk Rapids, for the County Road 39 buffer lane highway safety improvement program project. HSIP will fund $1,305,000 of the project, with the remaining $3,091,864 coming for regular state aid funds.
• learned that the county will receive an increase of $972,280 in county aid. Sherburne County will receive $963,157, and Stearns County will receive $2.1 million. Daleiden said the formula for aid is based 50 percent on population and 50 percent on need.